We're artists. We paint, dance, act, strum, perform and write. But are we (even you, authors) masters of writing about what we do? Not always. Still, the world expects us to spell out the our ideas and goals in order to score the grants, residencies and jobs we need. The Edit is a look at artists' statements, bios, cover letters and the editorial process that shapes them into more persuasive arguments for one's practice. Our hope is that this feature will help artists tackle the onerous task of writing about their work ... and winning the grants. Want us to take a look at yours? Submit your statement.
When Nicole Garneau dropped by the Arts Incubator in Washington Park to take part in CAR’s Artist Statement Editing Frenzy, she brought a wealth of materials: multiple artist statements, portfolio PDFs, video clips. Garneau’s practice presented a particular challenge: her work spanned so many interests and media that I was, initially, at a bit of a loss on how to make one statement represent her varied interests. After spending some time with her, I went back to the basics to come up with a solution that would give her the flexibility her range of work demands.
My cultural work is interdisciplinary, and includes performance, visual art, installation, music, parties, street theater, earth works, environmental intervention, new genre public art, and project art. I make both solo and collaborative performances that often address a political issue. I also teach, do research, write make ceremonies, and do healing work. My work is informed by feminism; spirituality; ceremony; critical race analysis; queer theory; the politics of the body; and the social/political implications of natural disasters. I am interested in creating cultural work that is .
In 2005, I created HEAT:05, a durational art project in which I made a performance or installation every day of the year to mark ten years since the 1995 Chicago heat wave disaster. I approached the process of making daily art works as a research method. The daily photographic and written documentation of HEAT:05 that I logged on my web site became an exhibit at Chicago’s Vespine Gallery.
In 2010, I collaborated with DJ Erik Roldan to create, curate, and host Northern Lights, a monthly queer performance and dance party in Chicago. The party showcased innovative and radical queer art, performance, writing, video, and installation. I am currently living and working on the raod as I complete the five-year (2008-2012) UPRISING project and an accompanying book about the project. UPRISINGs were monthly “public demonstrations of revolutionary practices.” From January-June 2012, I lived in Denmark as part of the Living Copenhagen artist residency, and then continued to tour in Europe, creating participatory UPRISING works is Denmark, Russia, Yorkshire, UK, and Portugal.
I am working at the intersections of performance and ceremony, and the work often requires interactions with other people. I set up public structures and tasks, and then subject them to the whims of weather, passersby, participants, and police. Throwing and hosting parties is an element of my artistic practice and I consciously create rituals within that party world in order to facilitate ecstatic healing experiences that hearken back to Bachanalian rites.
My work takes on audacious goals, such as healing the earth, all its living creatures, and my communities. From 2008-2012 I made monthly, mostly outdoor “public demonstrations of revolutionary practices” in order to research and train myself and people around me to prepare for a nonviolent revolution to manifest a more loving, just, and harmonious world.
As a performance maker, I am aware that the work often relies heavily on my own charismatic public persona. I often find myself in the role of emcee or facilitator of an experience to be shared generously with my communities. The work happens to live, in time, and demands an ongoing practice of “reading the room.” Often the work is reverent and earnest, as when I spent all of 2005 making daily works to remember the 1995 Chicago heat wave tragedy, or when I am singing folk songs and stroking the carcasses of dead deer. But I am also working at a self-reflexive of the raunchy and the irreverent. I am interested in body interventions that cause discomfort for myself and the audience. I believe the work is sacred, and that my role in it is truly a healing one, but I am conscious of disrupting any idea or expectation of an angelic or holy persona. I am playing at the edge of the beautiful and the grotesque.
A trick I employ when I'm feeling lost in my own prose is to break down the paragraphs into discrete, topical components and analyze them separately. Dumb down the language and identify the core idea driving each sentence or paragraph. Justify its existence. Spending time cleaning up the parts often helps me identify narrative threads and focus my priorities. These streamlined nuggets can then be assembled and buffed into a more consistent, sophisticated, elegant narrative.
For all its length, Nicole’s first statement tells me few things: She does performative art; much of it is political; these things happen in public. The remainder is a laundry list of adjectives that touch upon her work—words, she admitted, she parked there over time as her work went in new directions. This is followed by a few project summaries that seem included to establish her legitimacy as an actively exhibiting, collaborating artist.
Except for those topic sentences, all needs to go. The risk you run when padding a statement with run-on descriptors is a dilution of focus. If a reviewer or jury member starts paying attention to the sentence structure and not your point, you’ve weakened your argument.
When I look at Garneau’s second statement, things get interesting. Her sense of wit—an observational trait that feels essential to her practice—asserts itself. There are threads to pick out here. Words like “ritual,” “community,” and “sacred” become wayposts—guides around which I can assemble a central narrative.
For Nicole, though, that’s not going to be enough. She works in so many media and has so many interests that one artist statement will never quite capture her work. For her I want to develop a customizable model. I’ll write a base statement that satisfies the core criteria of her interests. I'll then leave room to slot in a specific work example that reinforces the base. This example will be tailored to the specific granting or jurying body that will read it. It may be more work on her part in the beginning, but by crafting capsule summaries of her salient works, she can quickly tailor her practice to the appropriate crowd. What she loses in labor she gains in agility. If her statement is for more generic use, the “specific work example” placeholder collapses down, leaving a general narrative of her work.
I make performative artwork in social or public venues that is activated by political and cultural concerns to foster individual and communal growth. Through multiple media I address performance in its ancient role of “ceremony,” an activity defined by interactions with other people. I set up public structures and tasks, and then subject them to the whims of participants, weather, passersby and police. Often these ceremonies take the form of parties—modern-day rituals in which I re-format and interpret the ecstatic experiences that have roots in Bacchanalian rites.
I believe the process of my work creates a sacred space, and that my role in it is a healing one. Because of that healing process, I am interested in body interventions that cause discomfort for myself and for the audience. The introduction of profane elements prevents the sacred from becoming rarified or devotional.
As a performer, my work relies heavily on crafting my charisma and then testing the boundaries between that public persona and the public space. While the work is often reverent and earnest, I also incorporate the raunchy and the irreverent.
[INSERT SPECIFIC WORK EXAMPLE]
My work sets audacious goals such as healing the earth and all its living creatures. The ambit of my performances must therefore address the high- and low-brow. These processes, typified by a four-year project of producing “public demonstrations of revolutionary practices,” are ultimately meant to equip myself and my audiences to bring about a more loving, just and harmonious world.
Nicole Garneau was born in Chicago, Illinois and earned a bachelor's degree in theater from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a master's in interdisciplinary art from Columbia College Chicago. She is currently on the faculty of the cultural studies department at Columbia College Chicago.
The Edit is a regular feature that addresses the editorial processes and decision-making involved in refining descriptions of work to match one's creative output. If you'd like to be considered for an edit session, submit your stuff.
Above: still from Deer Remedies #1 video